Brocato's Eat Dat
8480 Morrison Rd.
New Orleans, LA 70127
Napoleon's Rating - ****/*****
Eastern New Orleans has long suffered from a scarcity of exciting restaurants, and it's also true that New Orleans in general has few restaurants for authentic Cajun flavor, as opposed to the local Creole mainstream. Well, along comes Brocato's Eat Dat, an unassuming, almost hidden café that simultaneously does its part to address both of those issues. This a small, casual, inexpensive lunch spot, and at first the menu looks like a roster of familiar down-home dishes. But work your way through the ever-changing daily specials and you'll discover authentic Cajun flavor and a solid dose of culinary creativity.
Finding Brocato's is a bit of a challenge. It's quite tucked away in a nondescript strip mall just off Crowder Boulevard. Inside, you find a neat but stark dining room with bare tables, no windows and a profusion of fleur de lis wall art.
Servers here can be friendly to the point of aggressive. They can't seem to control their enthusiasm for the kitchen's work, which is probably a good thing for a place that offers so much more than it appears to. You order at a counter and later a waitress will bring the meal to your table. But be advised that if she thinks the bread pudding looks good that day you'll hear about it four or five times during lunch until you finally relent and order dessert.
Servings at Brocato's are enormous, and a first course is hardly ever necessary. Still, it's always worth checking out the soups. If nothing else, a cup of the gumbo will assure any newcomer of the kitchen's solid Cajun credentials. The gumbo is thick, salty, dark and rich, and it's loaded with chicken that pulls apart into strands and with sausage diced into small, smoky chunks. Get a bowl and it comes with both a mound of rice and a scoop of cool, creamy potato salad to eat on the side or add to the gumbo, as per one Cajun country tradition.
The standard, everyday menu at Brocato's has a few salads, that gumbo and a roster of po-boys. These are good. But the real story here is on the specials board, which lists six or eight varying dishes each day. The first dish that sold me on this place was the blackened redfish, which arrived as a huge, meaty, sweet plank of fish expertly seasoned and cooked. Anyone who has ordered a blackened dish elsewhere and ended up with an incinerated dinner should try this textbook version of the widely misunderstood recipe. A beautiful side of shrimp etouffee accompanied the fish, all for $13. The fried soft shell crab had a dark crust, and the whole thing rested atop a plate of garlicky, lightly-sauced crawfish pasta. Short ribs are braised and go over a bowl of penne with a rich demi glace cooked down from the beef. Catfish is cut ultra-thin, rolled in a peppery cornmeal batter, fried crisp as chips and served with a crawfish etouffee on the side. Even the rice was done with evident care, another endorsement of this kitchen's focus on the simple steps that make dishes shine. Brocato's jambalaya is better than average for restaurant renditions of this iconic dish, though I prefer brown, country-style jambalaya and this one had that red sweetness typical of city versions.
Choosing between cheesecake and bread pudding here, I always opt for the bread pudding, especially after the waitress's sales pitch. Dense, mellow, warm and crusty, it's drizzled with chocolate, caramel and vanilla sauces.
Beverages are limited to soft drinks only.
Brocato's would be a good deal were it just an ordinary plate lunch joint. But given the impressive quality and skilled execution here, the restaurant becomes a serious bargain. Most daily specials are about $10, though a few marquee items like the redfish will be $13 or so.
This is authentic, deeply satisfying Cajun cooking. The location is certainly out of the way and the setting is dowdy, but if you've ever swooned over high-quality, traditional cooking in Cajun country and pined to have a place to get it closer to home, Brocato's is the answer. There's always something new to try whenever I visit, and I've always left impressed and excited to return. Though the restaurant is very casual and short on creature comforts, the cooking alone here earns Brocato's Eat Dat every bit of its four-star rating. I only wish it had expanded hours for dinner.